The catalog of horrors contained in Tuesday's report from the Senate Intelligence Committee ought to settle one argument for good: Yes, the CIA did use torture on suspected terrorists in its secret detention program a decade ago.
Not convinced waterboarding is torture, even though the U.S. military considers it that? Then try sleep deprivation, which the
But Tuesday's report won't settle that argument for everyone, alas, because — like so much else in American politics — it has become a partisan football. Five years ago, most of the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee decided that the investigation of CIA misconduct was a veiled attack on the administration of President
Nor will the report settle an equally important question: Did the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" produce information that stopped terrorist attacks, saved American lives, and led Navy SEALS to the hideout of
For years, the CIA and its directors have insisted that the coercive interrogations produced intelligence that couldn't have been gained any other way.
The Senate report says that simply wasn't true. "The CIA consistently omitted the significant amount of relevant intelligence obtained from [other] sources," it charges, "leaving the false impression that the CIA was acquiring unique information from the use of the techniques."
This debate is a little narrower than it sounds, though. Some of the CIA's critics have charged that torture produced no useful intelligence at all, but when she unveiled the report, Sen.
"There's something tragic about this report," said Amy Zegart, an intelligence scholar at Stanford. "Feinstein and her staff have spent years trying to get to the truth. But because of the way the process worked, their report will be attacked as imperfect and partisan through eternity. It was an attempt at truth and reconciliation that will achieve neither."
It's particularly frustrating that the Senate report didn't quite succeed in settling the debate over whether torture is ever effective. In part, that's because some of the detainees were subjected to coercive interrogations before their questioners got a chance to find out what they would have said under less draconian treatment.
The CIA doesn't know the answer, either. In his response to the report, CIA Director
"I was hoping for an 'aha' moment — that moment where we'd get a definitive answer," said Zegart. "That didn't happen."
There were a few exceptions to the partisan divide on Tuesday. One of them, Sen.
"Torture's failure to serve its intended purpose isn't the main reason to oppose its use," McCain said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "This question isn't about our enemies; it's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It's about how we represent ourselves to the world.
"We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them," he said. "How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves, even momentarily.
"Our enemies act without conscience," McCain said. "We must not."